When he died in 2012 at the age of 79 in Islamabad, it was due to a heart attack, but loneliness had probably killed Tridiv Roy earlier. Roy had abdicated his title as Raja of the Chakma circle in the Chittagong Hill Tracts after the 1971 Bangladesh war, and left the new country for Pakistan, which he made his home for the rest of his years.
Pakistan marked his death in passing, as did Bangladesh. No tears were shed for him either in Pakistan, where he was treated like a hero for a few years and forgotten, or in Bangladesh, where he was reviled for “betraying” the new nation. Two years before his death, he told this reporter he had “no regrets” about his decision to turn his back on Bangladesh, as the Chakmas there continued to be discriminated against.
Everything about him was a throwback to another world. He was a practising Buddhist in an Islamic republic. There was a faded coat of arms on a plaque on his gate announcing the address, in the E-7 sector, as Chakma House. And on the walls of his living room were paintings, signed and dated by the artist in 1971, of idyllic scenes from his real home. “One of the chief reasons in my decision to support the Pakistani nation rather than the rebels in 1971 was that the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are not Bengali, but unfortunately, the government of East Pakistan at that time was exploiting the area and the indigenous population,” he said.
The peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts had felt more secure with the central government, he said, even though they held it responsible for the large-scale suffering of tens of thousands displaced in 1960 by the building of the Kaptai dam. “The feeling of being exploited is even more acute now,” he said, pointing to the changed demography of the region that had made the “son of the soil a minority in his own home”.
Roy’s support was important to Pakistan. He was one of only two non-Awami League candidates, and the only independent one, to have won the 1970 parliamentary elections from East Pakistan. He won with a huge majority, the only non-Muslim in the Pakistan National Assembly. His decision to throw in his lot with Pakistan was a fig leaf used by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to show that his government was not without constituencies in the eastern wing of the country it had just lost.
Roy said contrary to popular opinion that he “ran away”to West Pakistan after the war, he left on November 11, much before the war began, as a special envoy of Pakistan military ruler Yahya Khan to visit other countries and build support to prevent the impending war. When the fighting began on December 3, he was touring Southeast Asian countries. It was from Bangkok that he decided to return to Pakistan rather than Bangladesh on December 22. Bhutto had taken over the reins by then, and asked him to join his cabinet as minister for minority affairs and tourism. The rest of his family, including his mother, wife and son and daughters remained in Rangamati, capital of Chittagong, The son, Debashish Roy, took over the Chakma leadership.
Roy was head of a Pakistan delegation to New York in 1972. Sheikh Mujib sent Roy’s mother as head of Bangladesh’s delegation. She tried to persuade him to return home, but he refused. He was given a hero’s welcome when the delegation returned to Pakistan. However, he never joined the Pakistan People’s Party, or any other party in Pakistan.
After General Zia-ul-Haq took over, he sent him as ambassador to Argentina, and decided to leave him there for a record 15 years, an unprecedented term for a diplomatic assignment. He had concurrent accreditation to several other South American countries. Roy returned to Pakistan in 1996 and was anointed Federal Minister for life, but held no portfolio to the end. The country had changed completely by then, and had little use for him anymore.
He never went back to Chittagong, nor made any attempt from Pakistan to influence Chakma politics. “I’m concerned about the Chakmas, but not involved in any of the Chakma politics. I am not in touch with any of the groups, they do not seek my advice, nor do I advise any group on how they should conduct themselves,” he said. “My overall advice is that that fight for your rights constitutionally, peacefully and do not go in for violence and killings amongst yourself and with others,” the soft-spoken former Chakma raja said.
He was emphatic that he could have done nothing for his people had he chosen Bangladesh over Pakistan. He said he would have been forced to become “a stooge” of the Bangladesh government. “If I had been there and not toed the government line, I would have either been eliminated, put behind bars or silenced in one war or another,”he said. “Of course, I miss my people, my home, my community,” he said, “but circumstances and history have played a great role in my life.”